by Jack Norris, President, Vegan Outreach
When first becoming vegan, it can be difficult to know how your friends and family might respond. Armed with the new understanding of how badly animals are treated in modern farming, you will most likely want to share this information with them so that they can join you in removing their support from such suffering.
If you are lucky, you will have family members and friends who support your decision to stop eating animals–some might even join you! But it’s also possible that some in your family might see vegan living as an affront to their own lifestyle, religion, or even to the memories of deceased family members who hunted and fished.
In all of these cases, it can be tricky to know exactly what to tell people. Pushing people to do something is typically the quickest way to get them to resist, and this can be especially true when dealing with family members. As a result, many vegans have found it best to simply set a good example and wait for their family and friends to ask them more about the issues.
But whether your family and friends respond positively or negatively, it’s helpful to know that when done strategically, you can reach other people who will embrace a vegan ethic and change their diet. You can make your biggest impact by doing outreach to the public, especially to young people who are often open to change and in some cases just need that final push. Vegan Outreach has a college outreach program that is easy to get involved with (see the end of this article).
If you don’t have time to do outreach yourself, you can donate to Vegan Outreach and we’ll do it for you. For every person you persuade to go vegan, either directly or indirectly, you double the benefit to animals created by your own lifetime of vegan eating!
Animal Ingredients vs. Doing the Most Good
When you first go vegan, it’s common to feel that you need to prove to your friends and family that it’s possible to live without using any animal products. It’s important to realize that the vegan ethic is a recent development. While there have been people throughout history who have preached kindness to animals, no society has been vegan in an effort to prevent harm to animals. Human society has been brutal to animals since the dawn of our species, and the mass movement to change this situation didn’t fully catch on until the publication of Animal Liberation by Peter Singer in the mid-1970s.
Because of our history, the body parts of animals permeate the products that surround us, and fully removing all animal ingredients from your life can be an unrealistic amount of pressure to bear.
It’s not important that individuals be able to live 100% animal product-free right now, but rather to move society towards a time when we don’t use animal products. There is a strong argument for vegans to be about 99% vegan and use the extra time and emotional energy it would have taken to be “perfect” to inspire others to become more vegan.
In fact, striving to be 100% vegan might even be detrimental to your ability to persuade others to join you because it can make veganism appear too difficult. A way to open the door for people to start taking steps towards being vegan is to tell them veganism doesn’t have to be an all or nothing thing.
Some practical ways to do this are:
- Eat apparently vegan foods when out with friends and family at restaurants rather than questioning the staff about minor ingredients.
- If someone says, “I can’t be vegan because I could never give up X,” respond with, “Then be vegan except for X.”
- If someone backslides, don’t write them off your list — each day is another day that someone can do their best to prevent animal suffering!
There are some vegan advocates who say that it’s important to present a consistent message that humans have a moral duty towards animals and it is wrong to use animal products under any circumstance. Our experience is that flexibility on these issues does more good in moving society towards the day when animals are no longer exploited.
Remember Your Own Journey
Sometimes when people become vegan, they start having a hard time understanding why others aren’t. When we are “awakened” to something like animal suffering, it’s sometimes difficult to remember that we were once ignorant to it; we didn’t know, and sometimes we didn’t want to know. Remembering our own journeys to veganism makes us slower to judge and quicker to relate and engage with non-vegans. It helps us to win over others to vegetarianism, and it helps us to feel better about our own choices. Nobody is perfect, and, if our goal is to reduce animal suffering, we must keep a sense of humility when dealing with others we want to encourage to change.
The Angry Vegan Stereotype
In my opinion, vegans have every right to be angry about how animals are treated. And anger and urgency can be strong motivating factors to get us advocating for animals. But it’s also important to realize that non-vegans are only going to want to be vegan if it is associated more with happiness than anger. For this reason, when around non-vegans, it might be best to express the happiness and satisfaction you feel in making the world more compassionate.
A common question these days is how often to post about animal issues on Facebook and other social media. Social media is a great way to spread information about what is happening to animals, but if you post too often, your friends might end up tuning you out. Just be aware of this possibility and use your posts strategically so as to pique their interest but not overwhelm them.
When it Helps to Be Pushy
There is one exception to the idea that you should try only to set a good example rather than being pushy with your friends and family, and that is when someone decides to pick on you about being vegan. You can often nip this in the bud by actively trying to convert them. When they give you a hard time, respond by asking them to watch videos and read pamphlets, books, and articles. After doing this a few times, there’s a good chance they’ll want to avoid bringing the subject up.
Understanding that veganism is a relatively new phenomenon and that very few of us were born vegan can provide some humility when hoping others will see our viewpoint. Being a positive example for our friends and family while at the same time not providing an unrealistic example of veganism will do the most good. And if you really want to make a huge impact on others, become active with Vegan Outreach!
You can get started on our Outreach page.